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June 24, 2013 5:53 PM Who Has “Momentum” on Immigration?

By Ed Kilgore

We might as well just get this out of the way before the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment is passed in the Senate tonight and the hype machine gears back up for pronouncing the irresistible momentum of the Gang of Eight immigration reform legislation through the House as well as the Senate.

Even such immigration optimists as my WaPo friend Greg Sargent admits freely that the only route for House passage of such legislation this year will be via a decision by John Boehner to reverse his increasingly categorical promises and defy his Judiciary Committee and a majority of his own conference to allow a vote on a bill that can only pass with a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Politics aside, it’s not clear, mechanically, how this is supposed to happen, since “regular order” would require waiting on the Judiciary Committee to roll out several controversial bills that would then have to pass the House and get sent to a conference committee and come back in a form acceptable to the Senate. All this would take considerable time the House doesn’t really have, as National Journal’s Fawn Johnson points out today (in predicting it just ain’t happening). Matt Yglesias talks about a scenario where the inability to get his conference united behind even a Republicans-only immigration bill might, paradoxically, enable him to throw up his hands and find some vehicle for getting the Senate bill to the House floor. But that is much, much easier said than done.

And you can’t, of course, put politics aside. The hypothesis that Sargent, along with his WaPo colleague Jonathan Bernstein, have offered with varying degrees of confidence, is that because House Republicans privately understand the importance to their party of not standing in the way of immigration reform, they may wink and nod and let John Boehner abandon the Hastert Rule and bring a bill to the floor that Democrats and a minority of Republicans can pass without following through on threats to depose him as Speaker.

Now if the benefit GOPers are supposed to be getting from the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform is the gratitude of business lobbyists and/or Karl Rove, I suppose this rather Machiavellian argument could make sense. But if the real prize here is a better image among Latino voters, it’s not obvious why Republicans are going to get credit for covertly allowing the enactment of a law mostly supported by Democrats and loudly opposed by a majority of Republicans in both Houses.

It actually makes more sense to me that Republicans would want to kill comprehensive immigration reform while claiming they support it in theory. And most anti-Gang-of-Eight Republicans this side of Steve King are taking exactly this tack. Check out this statement from that shrewd follower of the right-wing zeitgeist, the former governor of Alaska, via her favorite medium, a Facebook post:

“I am an ardent supporter of legal immigration,” Palin insisted. “I’m proud that our country is so desirable that it has been a melting pot making a diverse people united as the most exceptional nation on earth for over two centuries. But I join every American with an ounce of common sense insisting that any discussion about immigration must center on a secure border. The amnesty bill before the Senate is completely toothless on border security….”

“Just like they did with Obamacare, some in Congress intend to ‘Pelosi’ the amnesty bill…. They’ll pass it in order to find out what’s in it. And just like the unpopular, unaffordable Obamacare disaster, this pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interests-ridden, 24-pound disaster of a bill is not supported by informed Americans.”

She went on to pound Marco Rubio by name with her usual subtlety.

I’ll admit anything is possible, and I am surely not privy to the inner thoughts and deliberations of congressional Republicans. But I continue to think there is way too much fairy dust—or to use Ezra Klein’s term, unicorns—in all the scenarios that lead to an Obama-Rubio signing ceremony on comprehensive immigration reform. Nobody’s lost any money lately betting on the hidden bipartisan instincts or fondness for minority voters in today’s Republican Party. So betting on such factors now seems decidedly unwise.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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